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Lessons from Jerusalem, Part II: The trouble with false assumptions

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

I wanted to continue the theme from my last Blog post about the Sea of Galilee and the notion of “being a Galilee” a bit with this blog post. As I am still in the glow of a religious pilgrimage I just made to Jerusalem and Israel, I want to stay with the Scriptural references a bit longer. Those of you who don’t come from a Scriptural background or focus, please stay with it; I promise to connect the dots to dispute resolution. The sequence below took place during the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles.

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice: ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within him.”

“Some of the people said: ‘Surely this man is a prophet’. Others said ‘He is the Christ.’ Still others asked, How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived? Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” — Gospel of John 7:37-43

Sadly, religion, theology and strictly held dogmatic or political views often serve to divide people more than bring them together as one. There is no more classic example of that than in Jerusalem, not only today but over thousands of years. In the case of Biblical reference above, the problem is not about differences between religions or cultures, but within one. (The discussion was among Jews only and based on the teachings of Judaism, as Jesus was a Jewish rabbi.) The dispute, which was really about a side issue and not the main contention on the table, arose out of two traditional enemies of understanding: building on and running with a false assumption and missing the spirit of the law and its essence because we are wrapped up in the letter of the law.

First the false assumption: Some people above assumed that because Jesus was raised in Nazareth and spent most of his time in Galilee, he could not fulfill the Scriptural Old Testament prophecy that said the Messiah or the Christ will come from the lineage of David and be born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem. It would be like concluding that I was born in Massachusetts because I have lived here for much of my life and hold myself out as a New Englander (I was born in Washington, DC) or that I must be a Granola eating, Birkenstock-wearing, touchy-feely liberal because I am a proponent of Collaborative Law (I hate those shoes, would hardly call myself touchy-feely, and I have some pretty conservative beliefs and some liberal ones). Had those people just asked a follow up question or two, delved a little deeper and checked their assumptions, they would have found that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was from the House of David. That simple step often prevents misunderstandings from becoming disputes.

Today, if someone told you he was from Israel, you might assume that he is Jewish. But if he then told you he was from Nazareth, you might change your assumption and think he was Palestinian. And then, to mess you up totally, he might tell you he is a Christian, born in America, who decided to move to Galilee because he thought it was a beautiful, inspiring place (it is).

Making false assumptions or not checking them is one of the main causes of disputes and if not, they certainly work to heighten an existing dispute or fuel the inherent desire among some people (like much of the U.S. Congress) to focus on differences and disagreement rather than find some shared interests and some common ground and build on it.

The people in the Scriptural event above had just been offered a suggestion of something amazing – the potential ingredient to fulfill their spiritual thirst and satisfy the interests they might have beyond their everyday worldly and physical interests. And instead of focusing on that, they immediately found something to disagree on that was a side issue for most people except those who clung to the letter of the law.

Imagine this today: A man is offering you the gift of the Holy Spirit/higher or inner power/core energy/ use of the other 86% of your brain power or however you want to refer to this gift, flowing and working within you, and you are more pre-occupied with whether he is from the wrong side of the tracks!

In a dispute resolution process, you are being offered the thing that will satisfy your interests and goals, but it’s coming from the other side’s lawyer and you cannot shake the need to cling to your adversarial position, find something that supports your view and discredits the other side’s suggestion. (I told you I’d connect it up.)

Clinging to false assumptions and stubbornly held positions can operate to keep a lot of doors and opportunities from opening up. We often fail to see those options because our mindset or attitude needed to be adjusted (maybe by a collaborative lawyer or a mediator), and we just couldn’t make the mental transition.

No matter what your religious belief are, hearing a message from someone who sees you spending your life catching fish that he could make you a “fisher of men” is not a message you’d want to miss because you wrongly assumed where the messenger was born, or focused on what was different about him.


Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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